Aviation

So, what’s really going on with all the missing baggage?

A major concern for flyers all over the world at the moment is why everyone’s baggage seems to be going missing.

According to insurance firm MapfreSA, claims for missing baggage have jumped 30 per cent from 2019 levels and there has been a tenfold increase in baggage arriving on wrong flights. People all around the globe are experiencing this same problem, with Smartraveller going as far to issue a warning to travellers heading through Heathrow airport about airport chaos and baggage going missing.

In fact, these conditions led to Heathrow implementing its cap on passengers, something which many airports around the world already had in place.

Of course, ‘luggage-gate’ isn’t a problem exclusive to Heathrow, as countless travellers in Australia have also been victims of the crisis.
However, a Qantas spokesperson said that the rate of missing luggage for the airline is relatively similar to before the pandemic, increasing from 5 bags per 1000 to 7 bags per 1000.

Passengers who have to endure the trauma of travelling without their things on their long-awaited holidays are at their wits end though.

Nancy Hromin, editor-at-large of Travel Weekly and frequent traveller, recently had her bags go missing for two weeks when heading from Marrakech to Nice on Iberia Airlines. She eventually tracked her bags down, but only after contacting the airport directly and retrieving her bags in person.

“It was terrible, I felt traumatised. My missing luggage had me completely all over the place in those two weeks,” Hromin said. “I had to take the initiative and actually go there to get my bags back.”

Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine said that within Australia, this is a problem that has been brewing for years and now passengers and workers are forced to deal with the consequences. Kaine highlighted the conditions that led to such severe labour shortages among baggage handlers, and COVID is not the only cause.

“Years of fragmenting work, suppressing wages, overzealous redundancies and the illegal outsourcing of workers has meant the jobs that remain are low paid with poor conditions,” Kaine said. “In an environment where workers are chronically over-worked, stressed and under enormous pressure, it’s not surprising the industry is struggling to attract skilled workers back to aviation.”

“The industry needs a circuit breaker to stop the rank profiteering and short-sighted focus of airport corporations and airlines that has led us to this point,” he added.

A Melbourne Airport spokesperson echoed Kaine’s opinion, highlighting the lack of staff, while emphasising on how major airlines are working to improve their operational reliability.

“One of the big issues facing airlines and ground handlers is a shortage of staff, caused by a combination of sickness and the need to quickly rebuild their workforce in what is a very tight labour market,” the spokesperson said.

“Ground handlers continue to recruit for new staff, and Qantas and Virgin are working to improve their operational reliability by reducing their flying schedules to better reflect the capacity of their workforce.

“Ultimately we are all one team, and everyone is doing their best to get passengers and their luggage where they need to be, as safely and quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Sarah Fairley, from Heathrow Airport, said that baggage is the responsibility of the airline. Airline ground handlers manage check-in, load and unload bags and turnaround/clean aircraft and the main constraint on Heathrow has been the lack of handlers.

“We have been warning some airlines for months that this capacity constraint needed to be addressed but there has been no change in the number of airline ground handlers since January 2022 – they are currently only resourced up to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, while passenger demand is at 80-85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels,” Fairley said.

Travel Weekly reached out to Dnata, who provide baggage handlers for Qantas, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and a wealth of other airlines, who declined to comment.

As the industry continues to struggle with a lack of baggage handlers following the pandemic, travellers end up being collateral damage – putting a dampener on many people’s first travel experience after a long hiatus.

What can travellers do?

To avoid becoming another statistic dealing with missing bags in the what is being dubbed the ‘summer of lost luggage’, try these hacks:

  • Avoid checking in bags where possible – Of course this is easier said than done and for many people not an option at all, but Travel Weekly’s editor recently left to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games, where she travelled through Heathrow Airport, and managed to pack two weeks worth of luggage for herself in just carry-on.
  • Look to use a luggage shipping service – Global luggage shipping services have seen demand triple month-on-month amid luggage-gate. Many also allow people to transport much larger sized bags and items. The main caveat here is that luggage shipping services can be quite expensive and hence won’t be accessible for everyone.
  • Try Smart tags – Tagging a bag with an electronic tracker such as ones provided by Apple, can be a great way to prepare for the worst. Sometimes knowing the bag’s literal location could be the difference between a good holiday or a bad holiday.

Featured Image: iStock/Bet_Noire



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